Vai is one of the most well-known and unique beaches on Crete island, famous around the world for its pine forest and secluded location. Each year it attracts a huge number of visitors and was once the favorite hang-out spot of hippies and freedom campers before stricter regulations came into place. The palm forest of Vai, the largest on the island and all of Europe, hosts some five thousand specimens of the Theophrastus’s palm and covers about 70 acres. This native palm also grows on the river banks of Preveli in fewer numbers, and a few other locations on the island, mostly on the south coast. It is a vast beach with blue-green water, fine sand and pebbles. Combined with the palm trees and hot dry climate of Eastern Crete, it creates the impression of an exotic faraway location. The contrast between Vai and other beaches of Crete island is such that it can feel as though you are on a different island. The impression is strengthened if one takes the path at the south end of the beach to higher ground, where you can take in a panoramic view of the whole region.
Due to the presence of palm trees, the area is protected. As a result, any sort of infrastructure development and construction is prohibited. The same is true for unsupervised camping. The beach and surrounding area is open to the public only during the day time and the local authorities patrol the area for overstaying visitors. Due to the restrictions, you will not find any hotels near the beach nor other types of accommodation. Despite this, the beach is organized with umbrellas, sunbeds, a couple of canteens that offer food and refreshments and there are also opportunities for water-sports. A little to the north of Vai, on Cape Sidero, in and around Itanos (or Ermoupoli) we find more secluded and beautiful beaches. Not far from Vai, you can explore Moni Toplou, a historic and secluded monastery that is worth a visit. It is known for its fortress-like architecture as it was once frequently attacked by pirates and has an organic winery where visitors can taste the local varieties.